In Game 1 of the first round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, both teams laid the groundwork for the type of plan they hope to use to win the series. The Blackhawks displayed their puck possession game and speed in the first two periods of the game, while the Blues slowly got their act together and really started ratcheting up their physicality and speed as the contest wore on.
The Blues eventually won on a goal by Alexander Steen just 27 seconds into the third overtime, but in reality the team had gotten control of the game well before that. As the third period got underway, the Blackhawks began to deviate from the script a little bit, retreating into their shells and letting the Blues dominate possession in the game’s closing minutes. The end result of that conservative play, likely caused by simply wanting to get a win in a road environment in the playoffs, was a Jaden Schwartz goal with under two minutes left that tied the game and sent it to overtime.
While it’s perfectly natural to see a team try to protect a lead in sports, the Blackhawks did it to the point of letting if affect opportunities to slam the door on the game in that third period. Within the first 10 minutes of the frame, Chicago had two different power play chances to grab full control of the contest, but they weren’t able to capitalize on either one of them. Their possessions during both man-advantage situations left something to be desired, and even with one of the Blues’ best defensive forwards in the box when David Backes was whistled for high-sticking, the Hawks still couldn’t get the job done.
All of that being said, the urge to panic that some fans are surely feeling after one game has to be tempered with a couple of key realizations. The first is that Ryan Miller played an excellent game from the second period on, and he was a big part of the reason why the Hawks’ push going into that frame fizzled out. He went from being tentative with the puck to gaining confidence while playing it, and while the Hawks can disrupt that by getting traffic to the front of the net and peppering him with shots, he still has to be given credit for the way he played.
The Blues’ defense also has to be given some props as well. They made some great adjustments to take away the Hawks’ speed and easy zone entries that they were getting early in the game, and as a result the Hawks will have to adjust their own strategy to counteract it. It’s a game of chess on ice, and while the Blues have the upper hand at the moment, the board resets itself after each game, so the Hawks can make different moves and try to force a different result this time.
That, perhaps more than anything else, is what the Hawks have got to do. Their standard game plan is clearly effective judging by their past results, and they have the personnel to pull it off. Where they struggle is when they deviate from that plan and try to play cautiously, because it takes away the very things that make them great. Their speed and ability to hold onto the puck for long stretches makes it virtually impossible for opponents to score, and if they keep attacking even with a one goal lead, they will be in a much better position to win Game 2 and tie this series up heading back to Chicago.